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Thread: Favorite books on writing

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    Oponionated PastMidnight's Avatar
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    Favorite books on writing

    What are some of your favorite books on writing fiction or on writing in general? Or any books that you use to help you in your craft? Any books that you really didn't like?

    I tried searching for a thread like this among older messages but didn't find anything, so I apologize if I missed something.

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    Finestkind underthecity's Avatar
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    Stephen King's On Writing is the book every writer needs to read.

    Behind that is Self Editing for Fiction Writers. If you're a writer and haven't read this book, stop what you're doing and get a copy now!

    How to Write and Sell Your First Novel by Oscar Collier was the first book about writing I read in 1990 or so. I can recommend it.

    Orson Scott Card's Characters and Viewpoint is a must-read.

    B&N publishes a few nice topic-specific books, too. I have one titled Conflict, Action, and Suspense. There are others.

    You certainly can't go wrong by reading Learn Writing with Uncle Jim.

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    Inappropriate Charmer Saanen's Avatar
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    Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages. I just sent my copy to a friend and now I want to reread it, so I foresee a trip to the book store today.

    I also really like The Writer's Guide to Fantasy Literature, one of the few books solely about fantasy and certainly the one book I've found that treats the genre with respect instead of as some sort of little sister of science fiction.

    Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy is good too.

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    Snow? Already? Shadow_Ferret's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by underthecity
    Stephen King's On Writing is the book every writer needs to read.
    Even if we don't care much for Stephen King?

    I actually don't believe I own any books on writing. I have grammar books, dictionaries, thesauri, editing books, spelling books, Strunk and White's Elements of Style, but no writing books per se.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shadow_Ferret
    Even if we don't care much for Stephen King?

    I actually don't believe I own any books on writing. I have grammar books, dictionaries, thesauri, editing books, spelling books, Strunk and White's Elements of Style, but no writing books per se.
    Then you are denying yourself a great deal of knowledge and inspiration.

    Funny, the post I JUST finished in my blog is about how important I think it is for a new writer to read these kinds of books. And I listed books on writing in my blog a few days ago. I'm glad I ran across this thread. How could I have forgotten "Self Editing for Fiction Writers?" But I have several listed that aren't here. Check them out.

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    delicate #!&@*#! flower Perks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shadow_Ferret
    Even if we don't care much for Stephen King?

    I actually don't believe I own any books on writing. I have grammar books, dictionaries, thesauri, editing books, spelling books, Strunk and White's Elements of Style, but no writing books per se.
    I listened to the audiobook version of this and it was wonderful - laugh out loud funny and full of tips that you'll actually remember.

    You may not care for Stephen King's style, but his success is unparalleled.

  7. #7
    Snow? Already? Shadow_Ferret's Avatar
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    Sorry if you misunderstood. I never begrudge success (show jealousy maybe, but begrudge? never!). I don't know Mr. King personally, so my comments were about his writing style. Granted I stopped reading him 25 years ago, maybe he's improved.
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    Profesionel Speelchecker mhughes's Avatar
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    I have to say the same as some of the other folks here.

    I am not a big fan of Stephen King (horror isn't my thing) but On Writing is a book I sit down and read at least once a year or more if I'm getting bummed about my writing. It's nothing like his other works.

    Self Editing for Fiction Writers really, really helped me during a time when I was struggling with improving my writing. Another one is the 38 Most Common Fiction Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them) is on my shelf but I don't read that as much for some reason.

    The Elements of Fiction series (Characters and Viewpoints and Conflict, Action, and Suspense are part of them) have been quite good. Same with the How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy one.
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    On Writing is excellent. It's part autobiographical (leading up to his unfortunate accident when he got hit by a car and was almost killed) and part writing book. So many great writing tips for anyone and a great fast read.
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    delicate #!&@*#! flower Perks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shadow Ferret
    Sorry if you misunderstood. I never begrudge success (show jealousy maybe, but begrudge? never!). I don't know Mr. King personally, so my comments were about his writing style. Granted I stopped reading him 25 years ago, maybe he's improved.
    I didn't take it that way at all! I was just saying that On Writing has value to those outside his core readership. He's an authority on creating commercially successful work, so this book should be viewed as a different animal all together.

    The merits of King's talents have been debated elsewhere.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by PastMidnight
    What are some of your favorite books on writing fiction or on writing in general? Or any books that you use to help you in your craft? Any books that you really didn't like?

    I tried searching for a thread like this among older messages but didn't find anything, so I apologize if I missed something.


    I've never been big on writing books that try to tell me exactly how to do something in minute detail. I think they're mostly wrong, even when they're right, primarily because all such books tend to be writer specific. They really tell you what that particular writer does, or thinks he does, which doesn't mean it will work for you at all, or even that it really worked for him.

    I like writing books that speak to the whys and wherefores or writing, of what it takes to be a writer, not what it takes to wite a scene in a certian way. King's "On Writing," and Bradbury's "Zen in the Art of Writing" are two of the more current books that I think are wonderful. And for anyone who wants to write humor, "The Deer on a Bicycle" by Patrick McManus is a must.

    I also like Lawrence Block's two books, "Telling Lies for Fun & Profit," and "Writing the Novel From Plot to Print." Block gives what to do advice, but never says you have to do it the same way, or even that his way is the best way.

    "Call it Experience," by Erskine Caldwell was the first writing book that really made a big hit with me. So did "The Summing Up" by W. Somerset Maugham.

    I also have "The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells" by Ben Bova, and "How to Write Sceience Fiction & Fantasy" by Orso Scott Card. I find Bova's book to be a little better than Card's, but both are, to a point, keepers, though each has a little too much "Do it this way."

    Eudora Welty's book, "One Writer's Beginnings" is a great read. Like King and Bradbury, she does it right, and uses autobiography to map the trail, rather than trying to use detail of craft that just doesn't work.

    Don't get me started on such books as "Writing Down the Bones" and "Bird & Bird." Especially the former. Something is just not right when one of the bestselling how-to books of all time was written by someone who had pretty much never written anything else. If you can't do it yourself, don't try to tell me how I should do it.

    I hate how-to books with journaling, with writing exercies, etc. Pure crapola.

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    King

    Quote Originally Posted by Shadow_Ferret
    Sorry if you misunderstood. I never begrudge success (show jealousy maybe, but begrudge? never!). I don't know Mr. King personally, so my comments were about his writing style. Granted I stopped reading him 25 years ago, maybe he's improved.


    No, his writing hasn't changed. He's still the same wonderful writer he was twenty-five years ago.

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    Finestkind underthecity's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jamesaritchie
    I've never been big on writing books that try to tell me exactly how to do something in minute detail. I think they're mostly wrong, even when they're right, primarily because all such books tend to be writer specific. They really tell you what that particular writer does, or thinks he does, which doesn't mean it will work for you at all, or even that it really worked for him.
    I agree, but it might be understood that writing books can teach you the basics and what to do right and what editors see as "wrong."

    If you never pick up a book about writing, you might not understand that you're not supposed to use excessive dialog tags, adverbs, sentences that start with "As he was walking down the hall," and other mistakes that most beginning writers make. After I finished Self Editing for Fiction Writers, I had to go remove all my "As he was walking down the hall" type sentences and many dialog tags that I thought were OK. I already understood the adverb issue and don't use them very often.

    Books about writing teach the writer what is expected in a manuscript, universal things the pros all know, but the amateur hasn't yet learned.

    However, the only way to really learn is to use the methods outlined in the books and go from there. IOW, you can't read a book about writing and become a writer. Use the books as a roadmap to develop your own style.

    Those who don't will always end up in the slush pile. Those who do have a shot at being in the 3% that might get read by the editor.

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    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Jin_Tonik's Avatar
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    *Scribbles down a lot of these book titles and authors.* I need books on this subject, I have Strunk and White's book, but really that's about all at the moment. Now I can go down near the mall for more than one reason today, I'll see how many of these my Barnes & Noble has (hopefully more than I was able to find on another subject yesterday).
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    One of the best books, imo, was written back in the 80's by Leonard Bishop, and can be purchased from Amazon for less than $2 bucks paperback, but I found it at my public library. "Dare to Be a Great Writer: 329 Keys to Writing Powerful Fiction." He is hilarious in it and holds no punches. I read this three years ago and it is stiill the one that stands out as the best.

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    Quote Originally Posted by underthecity
    I agree, but it might be understood that writing books can teach you the basics and what to do right and what editors see as "wrong."

    If you never pick up a book about writing, you might not understand that you're not supposed to use excessive dialog tags, adverbs, sentences that start with "As he was walking down the hall," and other mistakes that most beginning writers make. After I finished Self Editing for Fiction Writers, I had to go remove all my "As he was walking down the hall" type sentences and many dialog tags that I thought were OK. I already understood the adverb issue and don't use them very often.

    Books about writing teach the writer what is expected in a manuscript, universal things the pros all know, but the amateur hasn't yet learned.

    However, the only way to really learn is to use the methods outlined in the books and go from there. IOW, you can't read a book about writing and become a writer. Use the books as a roadmap to develop your own style.

    Those who don't will always end up in the slush pile. Those who do have a shot at being in the 3% that might get read by the editor.

    allen


    I don't know. Read enough how-to books, and you'll get several opinions on most of these things.

    I think the best place to learn about dialogue tags, adverbs, and pretty much anything else of this nature, is from the novels you read. I think most beginning writers make such mistakes because they don't actually pay attention to the fiction they read, and until you start doing this, how-to books aren't going to be much help.

    I may be biased on this because of my college experience, but for me, tearing apart a novel is a thousand times more useful than tearing apart a how-to book that tells you about the novel.

    And I think it's actual novels you should use as a roadmap to develop your own style. Maybe the best thing King does in his how-to section is when he does tear apart the novels of some very good writers, rather than when he tells us his rule for writing. His rules owrk wonderfully for him, but I'd bet any amount of money he didn't get any of these rules from a how-to book.

    In my opinion, a writer's autobiography is a far more useful roadmap than any writer's how-to book, especially for new writers. Ray Bradbury's book shows the sheer joy to be found in writing, and the work ethic needed to become a writer. King's book does much the same.

    In the how-to section of King's book, he says some very valuable things, but like any how-to book, many of these things are only his opinion, and other, very good writers, do things another way.

    The most valuable things to be find in King's how-to section are, I think, the simple ones.

    1. Word hard. If you aren't willing to work hard, you will not succeed as a writer.

    2. If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the tools to write.

    Some how-to books probably can be of some value to some new writers, but I think it's tricky, and I think assuming any technical advice in any how-to book is correct is always a big mistake. Most of it is correct only if you want to write a novel that's like the ones that writers writes.

    Before reading a how-to book, I think it's first necessary to read the novels that person has written. If you don't like them, you probably should not read the how-to book that tells you how to write one of them.

    3. You must learn grammar and punctuation.

    I think it's smart to read as many autobiographies of writers as possible. Autobiographies show you the road the writer took to get where he is, and it's the trip that makes a writer, not how many adverbs or "ly" words he uses. And it's amazing how few of these writers picked up a how-to book anywhere along the road. They may write them, but they don't read them.

    It's usually true that adverbs are not your friends, and that too many "ly" words can read poorly, but another extrenmely valuable thing King says is that "It's all on the table, and you should use anything that improves teh quality of your writing and doesn't get in teh way of your story. If you like an alliterative phrase--the knights of nowhere battling the nabbobs of nullity--by all means throw it in and see how it looks on paper. If it seems to work, it can stay."

    Editors do not have strokes when they see an adverb, and do not run screaming from the room when they see two "ly" words on the same page. That's minutia, and editors just aren't all that concerned with minutia. They're concerned with story and with character. Too much of anything is bad, but good writing is done through having a good ear, good storytelling sense, and good character sense, and every last rule out there needs to be cracked on some occasions, and shattered into a million pieces on other occasions.

    My otehr really huge complaint with how-to books is that no matter how many of them you read, no one has yet seen your writing. King says he learned much of what he knows about writing when, as a teenager, he handed an article to a newspaper editor.

    In fact, I think this article could probably replace 99% of what King says in his how-to section. http://mikeshea.net/Everything_You_Need_to_Kn.html

    I don't think anyone really learns to write well until they've had a story or two edited by a pro editor with a checkbook.

    You must read a lot, and you must write a lot, and you must know grammar. There's no way to be a good writer without these things. But if you look at the novels that routinely hit the bestseller list, dearned few, if any, really follow the rules of any how to book. I just think it's wiser and faster to follow teh same road teh writer took to get where he is, rather than trying to follow technical advice he gives at the end of the road.

    At the very least, before following anytechnical how-to advice that comes from such books, a new writer should pick up two or three or four of his favorite novels and see if those writers followed the same advice.

    I don;t think how-to books are poison, I just think they can confuse a new writer at least as easily as they can help him. Read them, but don't believe them until you see whether or not the writers you love reading follow them.

  17. #17
    Distraction Junkie goatpiper's Avatar
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    I loved On Writing.
    I think Pat Walsh's 78 Reasons Why Your Book Won't Be Published And 14 Why It Just Might is awesome.
    Steering The Craft by Ursula Leguin is great.
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    Books

    Quote Originally Posted by goatpiper
    I loved On Writing.
    I think Pat Walsh's 78 Reasons Why Your Book Won't Be Published And 14 Why It Just Might is awesome.
    Steering The Craft by Ursula Leguin is great.


    Haven't read those two. Ursula K. Le Guin is one of those writers I feel very guilty about not liking. I have no doubt she's a great, highly talented writer, but I just can't get through any of her novels.

    I do really like a few of her short stories, but have problems with most of those, as well.

    And I don't know why, which is the reason for the guilt. I can't find anything really wrong with her writing or her stories, but I still find them pretty much unreadable.

  19. #19
    Distraction Junkie goatpiper's Avatar
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    Leguin is very unique, imho. I haven't read much of her stuff, but I enjoy it a lot. I think she is an excellent writer - she uses the language very well, which is a lot of what I enjoy about her. Her book on writing does have exercises and such in it, I just don't do them. I think her perspective on writing is educational.

    Pat Walsh's book is inspiring because it's very straightforward. He doesn't dress anything up. It's quite acerbic, and that makes it a fun read. I couldn't put it down.

    I don't like the books that try to hold your hand through the process of writing. I'm struggling like mad on my first novel, and realize that I must find my own way. I love general advice and cool perspective, and I love learning more about the industry.
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  20. #20
    Distraction Junkie goatpiper's Avatar
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    I just got back from the library. I grabbed O.S.C.'s 'Characters and Viewpoint' and that book 'Self Editing For Fiction Writers'.
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  21. #21
    Outline Maven Tirjasdyn's Avatar
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    Terry Brooks: Sometimes Magic Works, and David Gerrold's book on Sci Fi are both great. Gerrold has a whole chapter on geting rid of the verb to be.
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    No Time For Chitchat, Kemosabe. badducky's Avatar
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    I saw this fanfic guide to writing once that I thought was interesting.


    http://www.medievia.com/medwww/ms/writersguide.html

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    Beagle Lips. madderblue's Avatar
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    Noah Lukeman also has a second book out The Plot Thickens. It goes past the first five pages into characterization, suspense, conflict, etc. (sigh...when will that man breakdown and represent me?)

    Also loved King's On Writing. I was amazed at how hilarious he was, and he used 'big' words that I don't remember seeing in his novel writing.

  24. #24
    Write For You, Edit For The Reader scribbler1382's Avatar
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    On Becoming A Novelist by John Gardner

    To James' list of Block books I'd add Spider, Spin Me A Web
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    me sir

    First 5 pages and Stephen King's writing book are the only two worth a damn.

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